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Atlanta Lawyer Charged in Wife’s Slaying : Crime: Ex-prosecutor is accused of arranging the killing to protect a drug and money laundering operation. Case has held the city’s attention.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Nine months after the brutal slaying of Sara Tokars, her husband, a well-known Atlanta attorney, was charged Thursday with homicide, accused of arranging the murder of his wife to protect a wide-ranging criminal enterprise that included drug trafficking, money laundering and counterfeiting.

Fredric W. Tokars was being held in Palm Beach County Jail after his arrest Wednesday night outside his mother’s West Palm Beach condominium.

The contract killing of Sara Tokars, a 39-year-old homemaker and mother, has held this city’s attention with greater intensity than any crime since the Atlanta child murders of more than a decade ago.

After months of rampant speculation and saturation media coverage, the charges contained in federal racketeering indictments unsealed Thursday add further to the sordid air that has clung to the case from the beginning.

Tokars, 40, a former county prosecutor, was one of eight men indicted as part of a sophisticated multimillion-dollar crime ring based in Atlanta and Detroit. The federal indictment alleges that the ring brought shipments of cocaine into Georgia from Los Angeles and Miami and distributed it, using more than 20 businesses, including a number of glitzy nightclubs, as cover for their illegal activities.

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The group “used force and violence, including kidnaping, torture and murder to protect the continuity of its operations and to protect its members from arrest and prosecution,” the document reads. “The enterprise was able to maintain its secrecy by the threat of physical harm to those who might disclose the nature and scope of its operations.”

“When this case is proven in court, I think Mr. Tokars and his co-defendants will have proven that money--especially drug money--is the root of all evil,” said Joe Sullivan of the Drug Enforcement Administration, one of at least six federal agencies involved in the investigation.

Paradoxically, the killing of Sara Tokars--allegedly carried out to protect the crime ring--only intensified a federal investigation that had begun in 1991, said U.S. Atty. Joe D. Whitley. According to the indictment, the ring had been in operation at least since August of 1989.

Sara Tokars was shot in the head, in front of her two young sons, on a secluded road not far from her suburban Cobb County home last Nov. 29.

While Whitley declined to elaborate on the indictment, it has been widely reported that she was killed because she had discovered documents in a safe that linked her husband to drug trafficking.

The confessed triggerman, Curtis A. Rower, told authorities he had been hired by Eddie C. Lawrence, a business associate of Fred Tokars. Rower and Lawrence previously have been charged with the murder. Lawrence was one of the eight men named in the racketeering indictment.

Authorities were able to make a case against Tokars only with Lawrence’s cooperation. After previously maintaining his innocence, he agreed to plead guilty to murder and to testify against his former business partner.

In return for his cooperation, Lawrence escapes the threat of a death penalty. He will receive a mandatory life sentence, which would allow him to be paroled in seven years. Federal charges against him carry a minimum sentence of 12 years, said Whitley.

Jerome Froelich, Tokars’ lawyer, blasted Lawrence’s plea arrangement as a “sweetheart deal.”

“This isn’t a deal for the truth,” he told reporters. “It’s a deal for Fred Tokars.”

Cobb County District Atty. Thomas Charron said he will seek the death penalty against Tokars and Rower.

At the Cobb County Courthouse Thursday, Fred Tokars’ brother, Andy, criticized the police for “harassing” Fred and using Sara’s parents and sisters to keep the case before the public eye.

“The authorities as a group have worked closely with the (John) Ambrusko family and have used them for whatever means they can to convict my brother,” he said. “We are constantly having to defend our name.”

He said he talked with his brother in jail Wednesday night. “His only interest right now is his concern for the boys and how this will affect the family,” he said.

Charron said the two Tokars children, Rick, 6, and Mike, 4, are likely to testify.

“Unfortunately, and the real tragedy of this case is the two eyewitnesses to the murder of their mother are a 6- and 4-year-old boy,” he said during a press conference. “While other children this summer were running barefoot in the park and going to Six Flags and having a wonderful summer, these little boys had to live a nightmare daily.”

The boys were with their father at the time of the arrest. Authorities lured Fred Tokars outside so that the children would not witness their father being taken into custody.

On Thursday afternoon, a Manatee County Court in Florida awarded temporary custody of the boys to Sara Tokars’ parents, the Ambruskos. The parents had been involved in a fierce court battle with Fred Tokars over the boys as well as over a $1.75-million life insurance policy that had been taken out on Sara.

First investigated as a botched robbery, the case swiftly caught the public imagination. Lawyers speculated that Sara Tokars might have been killed by a dissatisfied law client of her husband’s or by someone he sent to jail as a prosecutor.

But after published allegations of possible criminal wrongdoing and marital infidelities on Fred Tokars’ part, it began to appear that the seemingly picture-book perfect marriage was a sham.

In his one and only interview about the case, Fred Tokars acknowledged to the Atlanta Constitution in December that he had had an affair and serious marital problems, but he maintained that the marriage had been repaired.

Although police complained later that he wasn’t cooperating with their investigation, he vowed to “do whatever it takes” to help the police find the killer.


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